Football has always been a large part of Jamey’s life. As a longtime Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis athlete, Jamey grew up playing football at school and in his local community. He also was a member of the Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis national football team and traveled around the Caribbean competing in football tournaments.
Now, at age 33, time constraints prevent Jamey from playing football as he did during his school days. As a Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis board member, a representative of the Special Olympics Caribbean Athlete Leadership Council and a mechanic for the Saint Christopher Air and Seaport Authority, Jamey has an array of responsibilities that limit his time for enjoying the game. However, recently, Jamey created a way to apply his passion for football by leading a project that offered new opportunities for the next generation of athletes through Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Jamey is a graduate of the Cotton Thomas Comprehensive School, a special education school in the capital city of Basseterre. In collaboration with his mentor, Clive, a fellow Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis board member, Jamey organized a Caribbean Athlete Leadership project that brought together 8 students from Cotton Thomas and 12 students from the nearby Irish Town Primary School for a 6-week-long Unified football program.
Jamey’s inclusive idea for the Unified football program was to provide students at his alma mater the chance to develop their football skills while simultaneously making new friends. Jamey knew the students with intellectual disabilities at Cotton Thomas had never played in a football game with students without intellectual disabilities at Irish Town. Jamey hoped his project would help people in his community break down the stigma attached to people enrolled at special education schools, and instead encourage people to develop bonds through their common interest in football.
The students from Cotton Thomas and Irish Town came together twice a week after school to participate in strength and conditioning training, football drills and team building sessions. Jamey led each practice with two fellow coaches and thanks to a partnership with the Saint Kitts and Nevis Football Association, the Unified football players had access to ample sports equipment.
As with any new experience, it took some time for the students from the two schools to develop friendships with one another. Jamey discovered that the responsibilities of being a project leader were quite challenging as he led the sessions and planned activities for students with different skill levels and personalities.
After 12 sessions, the project was completed. Reflecting on his work, Jamey was pleased with the students’ improved football skills and new-found friendships. “[My favorite part] was seeing the friendships develop; on the playing field they were one team,” he said. “It was nice seeing the students show up and practice and play with each other. It was challenging, but fun! They were very energetic boys and girls who never seemed to tire,” Jamey added.
The students from Cotton Thomas and Irish Town celebrated the end of the project with a Unified football match and an awards ceremony, but the team members are eager to continue playing games with one another. With the recent launch of its Unified Champion Schools program, supported by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis plans to work with its local partners to expand Unified football not only in Cotton Thomas and Irish Town, but also in other schools around the country.
In an address to the students and their families at the project’s awards ceremony, Ivor Blake, the National Director of Special Olympics Saint Kitts and Nevis, shared that Jamey’s work will assist the country in reaching more students of all abilities. “We’re here because of Jamey’s dream, which is now a reality… the lessons learned from this project will be put in place for the [Unified Champion Schools] program,” Ivor said.
Jamey’s mentor, Clive, shared his pride in witnessing Jamey’s leadership abilities thrive during the Unified football sessions. “[Jamey’s] growth was evident in his communication, independence, and self-confidence,” said Clive. “He is a true ambassador for Special Olympics and for Saint Kitts and Nevis,” Clive added.
Moving forward, Jamey hopes this successful project will inspire younger Special Olympics athletes to share their talents—not just at school, but also with other local football teams in their communities. He believes that when the message of Unified football is put into practice, people can show how a common love of sport can bring everyone together, no matter what their abilities are. “I encourage my fellow Special Olympics athletes to become more involved in their community teams. I think starting [Unified] Programs in schools will pave the way for more inclusion in community and national teams,” he said.